Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Two Norwegian greats - on film

One of the things about being close to New York City, as I am currently, is the proximity to special events including film premieres. And so it was last night at the Walter Reade Theatre, part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, when the documentary The Other Munch, had its North American premiere. But this wasn’t just any premiere It featured an on-stage discussion by the film makers Joachim and Emil Trier with the celebrated Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard. That’s because the 55-minute movie depicts Knausgaard, who has long had an obsession with Norway’s greatest painter, Edvard Munch, being invited to curate an art exhibition of Munch’s work. For the vast majority of us, including Munch’s Norwegian compatriots, the artist’s oeuvre is stereotyped by about a dozen paintings, such as The Scream, which depict angst and alienation. But Knausgaard, author of the six-volume epic My Struggle, a contemporary literary phenomenon, wanted to present a more well-rounded, indeed decidedly different or flip side of Munch. So, he chose none of “the masterpieces” that depict those primal outpourings but numerous others – after all, the artist painted almost 2000 works - that show a variety of subjects, from starkly vivid landscapes to telling portraits. Indeed, as Knausgaard smilingly tells the directors in the film, many of these paintings are “light and airy.” During the film the writer (on right in above photo) is in conversation with Joachim Trier as they visit the places where Munch painted those 100-or-so years ago. There are scenes where Knausgaard goes into the museum’s vaults and chooses paintings that, while favorites to him, were considered not very good by art experts, which forces Knausgaard to shake his head over his critical acumen. Or perhaps he’s on to something. This doesn’t mean Munch’s portraits of emotional abyss are ignored; at least in the dialogue between author and director, they are discussed at some length. And, during the discussion, the hypothesis is put forward that Munch, much like the film director Ingmar Bergman, are artists whose work best exemplifies the emotional cry of the inner life, exactly because of the “post-Protestant” Scandinavian culture of emotional repression. Joachim also compares Munch, who constantly painted day in and out, to “the process” of creating art, just like the voluminous Knausgaard. But, the writer pointed out during the discussion, Knausgaard has never considered himself a writerly version of the painter. “I never thought about it at all.”

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